The Movie Waffler New Release Review - THE EXORCISM | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - THE EXORCISM

The Exorcism review
An actor begins to mentally unravel while shooting a horror movie.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Joshua John Miller

Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Sympkins, Sam Worthington, Chloe Bailey, Adam Goldberg, David Hyde Pierce, Marcenae Lynette, Tracey Bonner, Samantha Mathis, Adrian Pasdar

The Exorcism poster

You wait your whole life for a schlocky exorcism movie starring Russell Crowe only for two to come along at once. Hot on the heels of the entertaining if unoriginal The Pope's Exorcist comes writer/director Joshua John Miller's The Exorcism. Let's face it, all of these movies are to some degree knockoffs of William Friedkin's The Exorcist. But The Exorcism isn't simply another Exorcist wannabe; it's intrinsically tied in to Friedkin's film.

Miller, whom horror fans will know as the vampire kid from Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark, is the son of actor Jason Miller, whose most famous role was that of The Exorcist's troubled priest, Father Karras. In Miller's film, Crowe plays an actor named Anthony Miller, which was Jason Miller's original name before he adopted his stage name. With Crowe's Anthony taking on the role of a priest suffering a crisis of faith in a remake of The Exorcist, it's safe to say Miller Junior might be working through some daddy issues here.

The Exorcism review

Miller's film is part backstage drama, part Exorcist knockoff of the type that were popular in the '70s, with scenes that feel more indebted to William Girdler's Abby and Ovidio Assonitis's Beyond the Door than to Friedkin's film. If you're a fan of The Exorcist (who isn't?) you'll appreciate the inside baseball element of Miller's film with all its easter eggs, and if you're a fan of '70s Exorcist ripoffs (some of us are) you'll enjoy its schlockier elements.

Crowe's Anthony is an actor struggling to revive his career after spending time in rehab for addiction issues. Auditioning for the aforementioned role of the Father Karras figure, Anthony assumes he's blown his chances, but the director, Peter (Adam Goldberg, channelling Friedkin), sees something in Anthony's damaged soul and gives him the part. In the prologue we saw how the role came up for grabs, with the original actor killed by some unseen force. Taking on his estranged teenage daughter Leigh (Ryan Simpkins) as his personal assistant, Anthony throws himself into the role he hopes will save his career.

As the shoot progresses, Anthony finds himself haunted by demons, both psychological and literal. Goaded by Peter, who apes Friedkin's infamous tactics of psychologically torturing his actors, Anthony finds suppressed memories of childhood abuse at the hands of a priest invading his thoughts. He begins sleepwalking and speaking latin in his sleep. Leigh worries her father has succumbed to his addictions again, but as his behaviour becomes increasingly disturbing it becomes clear something far more inexplicable has taken hold of his soul.

The Exorcism review

The Exorcism was originally shot in 2019 but deemed unreleasable. It was only the success of 2023's The Pope's Exorcist that saw it taken down off the shelf and reassessed as a now viable property. Extensive reshoots were scheduled and voila, it's now out in the world. Given its troubled history, Miller's film is far less messy than you might expect. It manages to tell a complete story in coherent fashion, but you can't help wonder if Miller's original cut might have focussed more on the idea of an actor using a role to work through their psychological torment. The movie's rather generic climax feels tacked on in the hopes of appeasing an audience expecting a more mainstream horror movie, so it's not hard to assume it's a product of the reshoots. The horror elements are relatively well handled, with Miller displaying an eye for a creepy setup, but it's the backstage drama that's more compelling, especially for fans of The Exorcist, with much of the film playing out on a reconstruction of Ellen Burstyn's suburban home from that film.

The real highlight is Crowe's committed performance. Unlike his character, Crowe can't be accused of sleepwalking through his art. Perhaps channelling his own troubles, Crowe is utterly convincing as a man tortured by a life filled with regret and bad decisions. We really feel for the big lug, and his dynamic with Simpkins is particularly affecting. When playing the possessed Anthony, Crowe does something I haven't seen in a possession movie before. Rather than simply playing the possessed victim, Crowe instead plays the demon that's inside him, not just through vocal inflections but with his physical movement. Crowe moves as though he's inside an unfamiliar body, and there's something deeply unsettling in how he moves his massive frame in the manner of a toddler who only recently discovered how to walk.

The Exorcism review

One of the scariest things a horror movie can do is have a child feel threatened by a parent. Nothing is more terrifying than having the person you rely on for protection turn on you, and Miller makes good use of this dynamic by switching our focus to Leigh as she becomes endangered by her father's possession. When the possessed Anthony starts spouting obscenities at his daughter, including mocking the homosexuality she has kept hidden from her father, they carry more weight than the usual potty-mouthed jibes we're used to hearing in possession movies.

As the product of a gay man whose father was an actor who plunged himself into his roles, you have to wonder how much of The Exorcism is inspired by Joshua John's relationship with Jason. Of all the tributes filmmaking children have crafted for their parents, this is one of the more unusual, but the questions it raises regarding Miller's motivations in bringing this story to the screen only make it all the more fascinating.

The Exorcism
 is in UK/ROI cinemas from June 21st.

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